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Saturday, December 11, 2021

This ‘is the best’ I’ve felt in a long time

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NEW ORLEANS – The 3-pointers are falling. The knee isn’t ailing.

While Kemba Walker certainly isn’t the explosive point guard from yesteryear, the pride of The Bronx is off to a fruitful start with the 4-1 Knicks now atop the Eastern Conference.

And just as importantly, Walker hasn’t missed a game as the Knicks move on from their 104-103 Bulls’ survival to face the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans on Saturday in New Orleans.

Walker was held to 43 games last season for Boston and broke down in the playoffs.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a very long time,’’ Walker, 31, revealed late Thursday night in Chicago. “My days consist of me taking care of myself. I don’t mean that when I’m in the facility with the trainers. I mean that when I’m home. When I’m in my room, I’m taking care of my knee. That’s like my whole day. There’s a lot of preparation leading up to these games for me.’’

Kemba Walker drives to the basket against the Bulls on Oct. 28, 2021.
Kemba Walker drives to the basket against the Bulls on Oct. 28, 2021.
Getty Images

Walker’s 3-point prowess has emerged with 10-of-17 shooting from deep in back-to-back victories over the Sixers and Bulls.

In the 104-103 win over the Bulls on Thursday, Walker outplayed Bulls’ free-agent signee Lonzo Ball and outscored him 21-6.

If he’s not getting to the rim with the ease of point-guard partner, Derrick Rose, he’s never been more on target. Walker, who is averaging 14.2 points in 26.8 minutes, is shooting a team-high 58.1 percent from 3.

“It’s just the opportunities,’’ Walker said. “The guys we have on our team, we have a lot of space. Julius (Randle) is drawing a lot of attention, he’s finding me. That’s due to our offense, guys are cutting, drawing defenders and the ball is just swinging around to me. I’m getting some great looks. My teammates are setting great screens.’’

Walker signed a two-year, $18 million deal in August after being traded from the Celtics to the Thunder and then having his contract bought out. Not everyone called it a steal. The Bulls received a lot of hype over their free-agent splash that included Ball, whom the Knicks, after much research, decided to pass on.

Kemba Walker drives to the basket against Lonzo Ball on Oct. 28, 2021.
Kemba Walker drives to the basket against Lonzo Ball on Oct. 28, 2021.
NBAE via Getty Images

“I guess I wasn’t considered a big move, which is fine,’’ Walker said. “The outside noise doesn’t really matter. It all comes down to how you work and the people you’re around every single day. We’ve been together for so long now, we’re just jelling together so well. It really doesn’t matter what any reporter or media says about a team.’’

This is all Walker wanted – to stay healthy and win with his hometown team.

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“It feels good,’’ Walker said. “The way we play together, our connection is unreal. We’re jelling so well. We care for each other. Nobody cares who scores the basketball or who makes the play. We just want to win. It’s all about guys wanting to win. That’s going to make us special, that’s going to take us a long way.’’

Indeed, Walker handled with grace his benching against the Magic on Sunday in the Knicks’ lone loss, saying he’s “a team player, man.’’

“As far as basketball, I don’t think anybody ever doubted me on that end,’’ Walker said. “I think it’s just my health. I’m feeling good. My teammates believe in me so much, coaching staff believes in me so much. The whole organization believes in me.’’

The Knicks don’t have a back-to-back set until Nov. 7-8 vs. Cleveland and Philadelphia. That will be the true test. He didn’t play back-to-backs in Boston.

“It’s been fun,” Walker said. “It’s still early, we’re playing pretty well. We just want to keep going.’’

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